Yoga is for everyone!
Nor am I a vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, dairy-free, alkaline, or any kind of diet, Raw, Paleo or otherwise. I am a little more wary of trace amounts of soy than I am of a bit of Mercury in my fish, but do not lose sleep over either. Why? Because one size does not fit all, but also due to the fact that actual science with its rigors of proof does not support many of the claims made by the food industry and celebrities trying to make a buck. Because the ancient wisdom of Ayurveda and Yoga have given me much more custom-tailored tools to manage my health and I have never looked back.
I have to admit that the pressure to conform is especially palpable in the Yoga world, where I spend much of my time. As the "face" of an industry that hails healthy lifestyle, I am often asked whether I am doing a cleanse or going on a juice diet. Sometimes I feel like getting into the many reasons why I am not, sometimes I would rather not get into a discussion. The exposition below is for those times when I'd rather tell people - educate yourself, don't take my word for it. Most importantly, check your sources, as any good investigative journalist would.
Food is very personal. It is a sacred right to choose what we put into our bodies. Everyone is free to choose for themselves, and there are people with legitimate health issues that absolutely require certain dietary choices. However, right now more than a 100 million Americans are trying to cut out gluten from their diets. People self-diagnose themselves with lactose intolerance and proceed to deprive not only themselves of vital nutrients needlessly, but also everyone else in their family, including kids. Usually when one parent is on a crusade, everyone else has to come along. Bring in the fear-mongering of "cooked food is poison," and you have a perfect scenario for massive neurosis.
I am not going to dispute the claims here, if anyone is interested, there is plenty information at our fingertips with a simple Google search. It is easy to find plenty of claims on both sides. What I want to share with you what Ayurveda says on juicing, fasting, or any dietary recommendations.
The major blanket recommendation is 80/20: if you eat appropriately for your constitution type 80 percent of the time, you can indulge whatever vices you have the other 20 percent. This allows to avoid rigid attitudes towards food, which can trigger anxiety (and actually create food intolerance as a placebo effect). Anxious bellies are upset bellies, and any regimen that is too rigid can sap the joy from our lives. So, if a smoothie brings you that joy and a sense of having achieved something important - by all means, have it every now and then. But then again...
There are receptors in our mouth that, when we chew food, signal to our body which enzymes are going to be needed to digest it. If the food by-passes the process of chewing, then our body ends up confused and has trouble digesting it. With juicing, a lot of the pulp and its fiber and nutritious qualities are being removed. Mother Nature in its wisdom designed plants to have a complete and complimentary nutrition.
Vegetarian/Vegan may not be the best nutrition for some constitution types, according to Ayurveda. If in Yoga the primary goal of the practice is transformation, in Ayurveda the primary goal is radiant health (to make you fit for the rigors of Yogic transformation). Ahimsa is a noble covenant, but it applies among other things to oneself. And if your Vata is aggravated, then denying yourself animal protein would be self-harming on a certain level. It takes a focused and disciplined approach to get all of the proper nutrition on a Vegetarian diet, and most Vatas in the throws of their imbalance struggle in that department. Spaciness, lack of organization and planning, forgetfulness - these are all signs of Vata being out of balance.
In India, most of the population has Kapha as the primary dosha, and Kapha generally has low agni. Heavy foods like meat would be hard to digest, and it is only natural that vegetarianism would find an appropriate expression in that culture and climate. Western culture has a lot of Vata and Pitta expressed in the population, which do better on a diet that includes fish and poultry. Pittas would probably be most suited to a vegetarian lifestyle, as they are the most organized, determined, and focused of the doshas, their agni is high, and fish and meat can aggravate unstable Pitta. Vatas, on the other hand, would find it hard to get enough nutrition with a Vegan lifestyle: they would need to consume large amounts of plant protein, such as beans and legumes, which can be hard to digest for the fickle Vata.
Raw foods: again, if your agni is high, some raw foods in your diet are not going to hurt you, and some plants are best consumed raw anyway. However, if your Kapha or Vata are high, which means your agni is low, then you may not have enough digestive fire for an exclusively raw food diet. Many people feel better in the beginning from diets like this, because they are often overweight and malnourished in a different way, so for a short period of time they may feel a surge of energy (attributable to the high from carbs and sugar in fruit). Long term, however, such a diet may do more harm than good, since we humans evolved to eat cooked food - just ask any paleontologist to explain to you why our teeth are so small and the molars are so flat. Meat, by the way, is what allowed us to grow our brains so big, and humans have been eating grass seeds for many thousands of years and have mostly been able to tolerate gluten just fine.
And finally, fasting. Fasting may work well for some some of the time, but again, not everyone. If you are an anxious, insomnia-ridden, overwhelmed Vata, it is likely that fasting is going to aggravate those symptoms. If you are a slow-agni Kapha, then your digestive system can grind to a complete halt and you would end up gaining even more weight than you lost once you start eating your regular meals again. Pittas can tolerate some periods of fasting, but they usually become very unpleasant to be around, irritable and quarrelsome - and what's the joy in that?
For more information about Ayurveda and its dietary advice, check out these blog posts from the past: